Ideas for a garden in the woods?
September 4, 2009 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Ideas for backyard garden on heavily wooded lot?

Just bought a house in the mountains. Not a super large lot (about a third of an acre). The back half of the lot (past the fenced area of our backyard) is heavily wooded on a downward slope to a run-off that is dry 99% of the time. From the fence to the run-off is about 30 yards or so.

I'm interested in ideas that would accentuate this area but also lead to enjoying it more. I don't necessarily want to tear down the fence, but I do want to do something more than putting a picnic table out there. Any ideas? Has anyone ever done a water feature in a heavily wooded area?
posted by priested to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
what zone are you in?
posted by ducktape at 10:06 AM on September 4, 2009

One word of caution: don't get too attached to your plantings, or do a lot of research into what the native life won't devour. I live next to open space (a creek and a wooded hillside), and my tomatoes and citrus trees have been ravaged by deer.

As for the water feature, are you looking for something passive (a pond or pools) or active (waterfall or babbling brook)? Anything active will require power, and possibly a filter for the pump. And the downside for standing water is that this would get you a local population of mosquitoes. Additionally, do you want clear water, or something to be teeming with life?

I'm not intending to be a downer, but bring the troubles to your mind now, so you can plan for them.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:07 AM on September 4, 2009

If you get run off water, from some place clean, and can let it build up in a little sand-bottomed pond/puddle with large stones as sloping banks, you could have a frog pond. In my case the big rocks probably went all the way under and served as a reservoir. You can feed the frogs fishing bait worms, and they will thrive to the point of mosquitoes not being a problem.

Once they get big, you'll have foxes after them.

The water, and everything, has to be real clean. Nothing like squatting on a rock with your morning coffee, tossing worms to hungry frogs.

If you have a light, and again clean, sandy dirt bottom, some might hibernate and be next years big daddies.

This was north of Quebec, and just happened. I suppose you could stock if needed. The variety of species and coloration was delightful. There wasn't a lot of croaking because it was small and self contained, everyone was fed and happy, and they were all mating at night just fine without any territorial disputes.

Under duress, they may have one generation per season, in my deluxe resort they pulled off two full generations, and had just weened the third, though those little guys probably didn't make it to hibernation.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:16 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

As further encouragement to the pleasures of a private little frog pond: One day one of the big ones lay calmly in the shallow water and using his forepaws to rub and groom himself, caused his entire frog-suit, still in one piece, to come off inside-out like a frog-shaped sweater, until it was lying perfectly intact out in front of him, attached only at the lips. The he began slowly munching it back in until the last perfectly intact frog-toed booty was ingested.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:24 AM on September 4, 2009

Thanks for the ideas... Right on the edge of zone 6b & 7a according to USDA plant hardiness map. (Mid- SW Virginia)
posted by priested at 10:40 AM on September 4, 2009

As for foliage, I'm in Northern VA and have had good luck in my shady/semi-shady wooded garden with Solomon's Seal (my favorite), bleeding heart/dicentra, columbine, galium/sweet woodruff, campanula, assorted ferns, and of course, hostas.

The galium, in particular, might be nice on the slope, because in a couple of years it will spread out and make a lovely carpet of green with white flowers. It is fairly assertive in the right conditions.

I have no knowledge of what's deer resistant... my mammals are of the squirrel/chipmunk/bunny variety, and they seem to care more about my grass than my plantings.
posted by somanyamys at 12:03 PM on September 4, 2009

Your yard sounds a lot like mine, but I'm not really sure what kind of suggestions you're looking for (plant recommendations? landscaping or hardscaping ideas?) and it's hard to give recommendations without seeing your yard. So instead, I'll tell you what I've learned from our yard.

Nandinas are slow growing, low maintenance bushes that come in deer resistant varieties. I have deer come through my yard all the time and they've never touched the 6 I have in my yard.

If you have a deck, or want to build one, it's a great place to have a container garden where the animals won't be so likely to eat everything. Our deck is a full story off the ground (due to our sloped backyard), and I've grown all sorts of veggies and herbs without interference from the wildlife. I'm pretty sure anything I planted in the ground would be eaten in a matter of days, but then we don't have a fence like you do.

I've definitely seen people in our neighborhood with water features in their yards - from an elaborate waterfall and creek in one heavily landscaped backyard to a small waterfall/fountain in a front yard. I'm sure you could create a water feature if you wanted one.
posted by geeky at 12:48 PM on September 4, 2009

Yup, coming in here to recommend hostas, which grow fabulously well in shady wooded areas. Another tip, something my Mom does; go for a walk in the woods with a shovel and pail, and transplant some interesting flowers/ferns/plants that you find growing wild in the woods. These will be native to the area, hardy, and will require virtually nothing other than a good haircut every now and then. Mom has trillium on the edge of the lawn, and they are spectacular in the early spring. Be sure you aren't digging up something endangered, though!
posted by LN at 12:55 PM on September 4, 2009

I'm in zone 4 with an almost totally wooded 1/4 acre. We have a small pond that's shaded and it does fine. We keep it running with a pump in the summer and shut if off otherwise. Just requires a fall and spring clean-up to get the leaves out (bleach added then, too), or you can just cover it. Probably won't be able to have lilies in it, though, unless you have at least 4 hours of sun shining on it.

The rest of the yard is full of great shade plants, many of which are quite hardy and easy:
  • hosta -- variegated and neons are great in shade because they really stand out against the dark
  • Rodgersia -- my favourite plant, with a tropical feel to their palmate leaves
  • tricyrtis japonica (toadlily) -- another favourite, with late orchid-like small flowers
  • chelone (turtlehead) - can bloom quite lavishly, late, in purple, red, white
  • brunnera (buggloss) with its spray of lovely tiny blue flowers in spring
  • pulmonaria (lung wort), including variegated and spotted varieties
  • various gingers as sort of ground covers
  • tradescantia -- in purple, blue, magenta and white; it likes moisture
  • astilbes
  • elecampane (horseheal) which is tall and has bright yellow flowers (it's by our pond)
  • ferns - I'm partial to Japanese painted ferns, which are sort of purple
  • cimicifuga racemosa (bugbane or cohosh) which is very tall and has a distinctive odor; it also likes moisture
  • eupatorium purpureum (joe pye weed) including the chocolate variety of the same which has brownish leaves and gets about 4' tall (the ordinary one gets taller)
  • hellebore for early bloom (I can't get it to grow here but you probably can there)
  • some of the new heucheras, heucherallas, and tiarellas come in apricot and wine colours
Shade gardens are great! Good luck with yours.

(I have a lot of these plants shown growing my yard, labelled as to what they are, if you want to browse at Flickr)
posted by mmw at 1:08 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a small pond (9-foot diameter) that's in a clearing in the woods. The pond is great, but if your trees are deciduous, you'll want to rig up some sort of leaf screen. Rotting leaves make the water unhealthy for pond fish (and fish are good to have to keep mosquitoes down). Too many leaves can also make your pond smell like sewage.

The challenge is to rig up netting of some sort that will keep the leaves out but that won't trap frogs or snakes. I haven't found the best solution yet.

Laying lightweight nylon bird netting on the surface of the pond is a great way to catch the leaves, but I've also found exhausted frogs caught in it, even though it was late in the year and "too cold" for frogs.

One year, I used old fencing to build an arch over the pond to hold the netting up over everything, but that was a pain to set up, take down, and store, snakes have gotten caught in the fencing where it touches the ground, and frogs are probably hampered as well.

Skimming every day can be a peaceful hobby, but frankly it gets old after awhile, and you miss a lot of leaves. I skimmed last year, missed a lot of leaves, and my fish died.

Maybe a lightweight PVC geodesic dome that you can take down and store somewhere...
posted by PatoPata at 2:53 PM on September 4, 2009

Here's a gardener working a plot that sounds like the one you describe. I especially like the bees.
posted by nax at 6:53 PM on September 4, 2009

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